Like the rest of you, I had heard mostly praise for Sonic and the Secret Rings leading up to the game’s release. When I posted my initial impressions Wednesday night, I definitely acknowledged how fun the game was to play with the new control system. However, I noted the seemingly sluggish sensitivity in the controls. The game wasn’t that fast, movement from left to right wasn’t as smooth as I would have expected, and homing attacks weren’t perfect. I was looking forward to the rest of the game, but I have to be honest and say my expectations for the game had lowered slightly after trying out the game for a few hours. How does my opinion stand now?
Toss out those impressions.
Sonic and the Secret Rings is a brilliant platformer, augmented by RPG elements that serve to slowly turn the game into that Sonic game we’ve all been waiting for ever since Sonic made the jump to 3D. However, you won’t be fighting Dr. Eggman this time around. A genie named Shahra has come to Sonic to seek the Legendary Hedgehog’s help in saving the tales of the Arabian Nights from being lost forever at the hands of the evil Erazor Djinn. Sonic agrees to help Shahra out, but is shot in the chest with a fire arrow in his meeting with Erazor Djinn. Now with the arrow slowly depleting Sonic’s life force, Sonic must seek out seven World Rings in order to stop Erazor Djinn from burning the pages of the book of the Arabian Nights.
The level designs are filled with enough jumps, turns, loops, and rails to make the experience enjoyable, and you’re given enough time to enjoy the full levels longer than the 60-second stages in Sonic Adventure 2, yet not enough time to get sick of them as in the 10-minute stages in Sonic Heroes. With the new RPG elements added in, you’ll gain experience points and levels as you go through each stage and mission, racking up points. You will then be able to use skill points to equip skills that Sonic will learn as he goes. By the end of the game, these skills will enable Sonic to move smoothly from side to side, increase grinding speed, extend his attack range, literally hit the ground running after landing, and most importantly run at breakneck speeds. Sure, you have to live without those essentials for a while, but as you gradually learn and improve those skills, you’ll appreciate having earned them.
Sonic Team has finally brought blazing speed to the 3D Sonic games in a way that, for the most part, works. The only part of the fast-paced platforming I would complain about is the tendency for Sonic to be moving so fast that due to the darkness of a watery storm or the see-through tiles in the sky, you may find yourself realizing last second that you have to cross an area only to realize you forgot to jump, or that you couldn’t even make the jump. It would be the equivalent of an abundance of pits and water holes in one of the 2D Sonic games, requiring you to be constantly on the look out for areas directly in front of you where you may be in trouble of falling “off the screen.”
Speaking of things to look at, the games visuals are nothing short of stunning. The game’s textures aren’t as stale as we’re used to seeing in older 3D Sonic games, draw distances seemingly have no limitations, and the Wii definitely isn’t showing inferior technology at this point in time in terms of pushing polygons. The various worlds in Sonic and the Secret Rings are beautiful, right down to recreating the Arabian Nights-themed art style and the magical feeling it brings.
The game’s story is presented through several animated comic book panels, most of which are conversations between Sonic and Shahra. The cutscenes are designed to look as if they are drawn on faded pieces of parchment, serving to saturate the player’s mind with Arabian Nights themes. Visually, these cutscenes provide the story to give cohesiveness to the game, and do so in a wonderfully artistic manner. Unfortunately, the voice acting could use a little work.
The game’s voice acting is once again provided by the same group responsible for voicing Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (360/PS3), and the Sonic X cartoon. While the voices themselves aren’t bad, I honestly do wonder if the actors just speak into the microphone knowing they’re getting paid either way, or if they truly are trying to provide authentic, believable recordings of the game’s dialogue – because it sure doesn’t show. At times, it’s almost as if instead of not trying to provide a good voice, they sarcastically overdo it just to mock the poorly written (or at least, cheesy) lines of dialogue.
The rest of the game’s sounds aren’t as bad, however. The game’s music is provided by several artists I couldn’t remember if you asked me, but they fit the game. Sure, there aren’t as many memorable songs as there were in previous games – there doesn’t seem to be a trace of Johnny Gioeli, Jun Senoue, Ted Poley, or Tony Harnell on this game’s soundtrack. Still, the songs fit the game, and overall I’d rate the soundtrack as evenly average. In contrast, recent Sonic games have generally had their share of amazingly memorable songs as well as an assortment of songs I’d rather never have to listen to again. In addition, some of the in-game tracks have hints of Middle Eastern musical elements thrown in to add to the game’s theme, and the game does seem to benefit noticeably from it. Other sound elements, such as the sound of lethal blades spinning in front of you, your speed matching the sound of an airplane at take-off, and even the classic Sonic ring sound effect are all thrown in there for effect and definitely add to the game.
One thing I liked about this game over previous Sonic games is that I couldn’t simply play through each world (or “zone” as I still like to call them) once and get to a basic ending of the game. The game requires you to play through a number of key missions in each world in order to advance the story. While you are occasionally given some choice as to the order you play the missions in, you may not be able to unlock new missions until clearing specific other missions, and they may be in a previous world’s list of tasks. Fortunately, the worlds are big enough that most missions can take place in different portions of each world, ensuring you won’t get bored of repetition too quickly (which was my biggest pet peeve with Super Mario Sunshine, for example). By the time you collect the seven World Rings and face the final boss, you’ll have to have completed a majority of the missions in the game. Unfortunately, this leaves you with less new missions for later replay value. Of course, you can always replay missions you’ve completed in order to gain more experience points and level up, thus granting you further skill upgrades or even unlocking characters and games for the multiplayer mode.
The multiplayer “Party” mode allows up to four players to participate in mini-games arranged into tournament system. For those who previously described the games as resembling Mario Party, they were right. The plethora of mini-games do indeed have a very Mario Party-like feel to them, which is a good thing where it applies. I haven’t fully spent time digging into the multiplayer mode, but what I’ve played has all been one-on-one tournament style play. I’m sure there are probably more, insane party games included in Party mode, but honestly, if you really want a good party game, I’d spring for something that was meant to be a party game. Start looking into Mario Party 8 or Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party.
Overall, Sonic and the Secret Rings is by far the most fun and well thought out of the 3D Sonic games, at least in terms of the gameplay. The game’s story may not be as important to the Sonic storyline as, say, Sonic Adventure 2’s, but it’s a refreshing take on the tales of Scheherazade. Hopefully we’ll see a fresh new Sonic game on the Wii in the future, in which it’s back to the classic Sonic vs. Eggman theme. Sonic and the Secret Rings, though, has added several features which we may or may not see in future games, but they definitely worked this time around – the RPG elements add a level of skill and strategy to the game and make the game an improvingly enjoyable experience. Sonic and the Secret Rings is easily one of the best games on the Wii right now, and it would definitely be a worthwhile addition to your game library.
The Tanooki Rating: 8.3/10